Monday, April 8, 2019

Genesis 25: 19-34 “The Difficult (?) Doctrine of Election“


In Chapter 25 we find  the account  of Abraham’s marriage to Keturah, following the death of Sarah. Keturah bore Abraham six more sons.  This made the promise of God first given in Genesis 12,  that he would become the father of many nations,  even more definite.  This chapter also records Abraham’s death. Whenever a great man, who has begun  a great  movement dies, there is concern for who will carry on. But this is not  a movement begun  by  a man. It is God’s movement, and God will see to it that  the work that He has begun  will be completed (Phil. 1:6). Nothing can thwart His purpose. This section of Genesis shows that God keeps His promises.

The major part of the chapter deals with the genealogies of his senior sons, Ishmael (25: 12-18) and Isaac (25:19-34).  But the focus now shifts very definitely to Isaac - the son of promise.  This does not mean that the life of Isaac will be smooth and without challenges. Quite on the contrary…

The big idea and purpose of this chapter, and indeed of the whole Bible is the establishment of   the chosen seed - particularly as seen  in  25:23. [1]   The apostle Paul cites this text in Romans 9:11-13 and he calls it there “God’s purpose of election”. So we need to think carefully about this important doctrine and how it applies to us. Let us do this with the help of our text. I want to anchor our  theme  (the doctrine of divine election) and our text in these few thoughts : 

1.     God’s Purpose According To His Choice Will Stand
2.     God’s Choice Usually Is  Contrary  To Man’s Wisdom.
3.     God’s Choice  Proceeds  From The Principle Of Grace, Not Merit.

1. God’s Purpose According To His Choice Will Stand.

God had promised to make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations (Ch. 12; 17:4).  This is how it happens. Abraham’s sons by Keturah will, in time, produce a number of nations.  Then our text lists the generations of Ishmael (25:12-18). Why? To make the same point- that God’s purpose according to His sovereign choice will stand. Abraham had previously asked the LORD that Ishmael might live before Him, in the sense that he should become the son of the covenant (17:18).  God had denied that request because He had chosen Isaac, born of his covenant wife, Sarah. This does not mean that God would not bless Ishmael in other ways.   He promised Abraham that Ishmael would become the father of twelve princes and that He would make him into a great nation (17:20).  But God had also said that the sons of Ishmael would live in defiance against all his kinsmen (16:12). We see the fulfilment of this here in 25:18.  Again we see  that God’s purpose is accomplished according to His sovereign choice.
The blessings of the covenant  however go to none of these.Our text shows that Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac (25:5). While he gave some gifts to Keturah’s sons, he sent them away (25:6). The same was true for Ishmael. He was sent away (21:8-21). Only Isaac was given the covenantal promises of blessing and the land. Thus  we read that God blessed him after Abraham’s death (25:11). 
The story  of God’s election becomes even more  fascinating  as  we now read concerning  the birth of the twin sons  of  Esau and Jacob,  the sons of Isaac.  I want to remind you that if God was going to  continue  his covenantal  promises  to  Abraham through Isaac, then Isaac needed to have children. But Rebekah the wife of Isaac, like  her mother-in-law, Sarah, was barren. Isaac was 40 when he married Rebekah (25:20) and only 20 years later, when he was 60,  did she  give birth to the twins (25:26).  While Ishmael flourished and produced  12 sons, Isaac learned the patience of barrenness. He had to learn to depend on God. Struggle produces prayer, “It is time for you  to work oh Lord!”  God does all things in His time.  Isaac learned that the delays of God are not denials. [2]

Rebekah falls pregnant. Here is the fascinating part.  A disturbing problem develops in her pregnancy. "The children struggled (lit. crushed, jostled) together within her, and  she said, ‘If it is thus, why is this  happening to me?’ (25:22). The LORD reveals to her in 25:23 that there are 2 nations within her womb. The LORD tells her that these two nations shall not be at peace with one another.  Again we see that God made a choice. He tells Rebekah that two nations would come from her womb. He told her that the older (Esau) would serve the younger (Jacob). This was an inversion of the traditional norm. Usually the older would inherit the father’s blessing and the land. But it was not to be so in this case.  Esau would become the father of the nation called the Edomites.  Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel (Gen 32:28) would become the father of the Israelites – God’s chosen people.  In the history of the OT we discover that these two nations will be sworn enemies, even though they have the same parents, and again God’s Word is true.  

So, everything in our text makes the same point. God chooses certain people to enter into a covenant- for His own purpose. This is the difficult doctrine of election. It is difficult, because we have no control over this process. It belongs to God alone.  As indicated earlier, Paul picks up on this text in Genesis 25: 23 in Romans  9:11-13 and  comments:  10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”    
C. H.  Spurgeon comments,  “Jacob was God’s chosen one; he had set his love upon him, and before he was born, he  had distinguished him as his elect one. Now this is a great deep, and there are many  who  argue  at and question it; I am not here to answer them. The Book says so; let  them argue  with the Book, not with me.“  

The doctrine of election runs right through the Scriptures. A.W. Pink comments:[3]

In Genesis  we see  the difference which the Lord made between Nahor and Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob  hating Esau are cases to the point.
In Exodus we behold the distinction made by God between the Egyptians and the Hebrews.
In Leviticus the atonement and all the sacrifices were for the people of God. 
In Numbers  God  used a  pagan  named Balaam to announce  the fact that Israel were “the people” who “shall dwell alone, and shall not be numbered among the nations” (23:9); 
In Deuteronomy it is recorded,  “The Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance” (32:9).
In Joshua we behold the  mercy of the Lord bestowed upon Rahab the harlot, while the whole of her city was doomed to destruction.
In Judges the sovereignty of God appears in the unlikely instruments selected, by which He brought victory for Israel: Deborah, Gideon, Samson.
In Ruth we have Orpah kissing her mother-in-law and returning to her gods, and yet  Ruth cleaves to her and obtained inheritance in Israel—who made them to differ?
In 1 Samuel David is chosen for the throne, preferred to his older brothers .
In 2 Samuel we learn of the everlasting covenant  with David  (23:5).
 In 1 Kings Elijah becomes a blessing to a single widow selected from many;
In 2 Kings Naaman alone, of all the lepers, was cleansed.
In 1 Chronicles it is written “ O offspring  of Jacob, His chosen ones” (16:13); while in 2 Chronicles we are made to marvel at the grace of God bestowing repentance upon  a wicked ruler , Manasseh.  And so we might go on. The Psalms, Prophets, Gospels and  the epistles are so full of this doctrine…

2.         God’s Choice Usually Is Contrary  To Man’s Wisdom

Our text shows us that  God chooses  contrary to human  inclination. In God’s sovereignty, the Isaac’s wife was barren. His half-brother, Ishmael had not problems  in fathering  12 sons.  Isaac only  managed to have a pair of twins,  and that after 20 years of marriage, in which he pleaded with God.  Again, human  convention would dictate that the oldest would be chosen to  be the successor. But God  chose  not the manly hunter Esau but, Jacob, the mommy’s boy and the deceiver. God’s choice  is contrary  to man’s. Paul explains in 1 Cor. 1:26-30:  26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” The logic is fairly simple. If God chose those who were strong in themselves, they would  have reason to boast in themselves and God would be robbed of His glory. If God chose those who first chose Him, they could brag about their intelligent choice. But God chooses those whom the world would never choose, those who cannot choose Him. When His purpose is fulfilled through them, He gets the glory. 

3.     God’s Choice Proceeds On The Principle Of Grace, Not Merit.

One of the most difficult truths to grasp in the Bible is that God doesn’t operate on the merit system. He doesn’t choose those who have earned it or who show the most potential. He doesn’t choose on the basis of birth order or strength. If He did, He would have chosen Ishmael over Isaac and Esau over Jacob.   And, contrary to popular opinion, God doesn’t choose those whom He knows in advance will choose Him. Many people believe that God, in His foreknowledge, looks down through the halls of history, sees who will decide for Him, and then chooses them on that basis. However, that makes God dependent on the choices of man.  This is not so  and that is what  Paul asserts in Romans 9:11. God determined that Esau would serve Jacob, before they did anything  good or bad, so that God’s purpose in election would stand. God didn’t work out His eternal plan after previewing how things would turn out. God, ahead of time  sovereignly chose those  whom He chose according to grace,  by means  of  His unmerited favour. This  thought  often  bothers people, because it supposedly takes away man’s  ‘free will’ , and strips us of all choice  and glory.  But the truth is  that no one would ever choose God  if it were not for grace. Listen again to Spurgeon,  

I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never have chosen Him; and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards; and He must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find in myself why He should have looked upon me with special love. So I am forced to accept that great Biblical doctrine.[4]

The idea of this  being ‘unfair‘  is  anticipated and  discussed by Paul in Romans 9: 1-26.  He asks, “Is there injustice on God’s part?”  He strongly answers, “By no means!”  (lit. May it never be!) Then he shows how God has mercy on whom He wills and hardens whom He wills. Then he anticipates  the  next objection: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’”  Listen to  the response: “But who are you  O man, who answers back to God?” (Rom. 9:14-20). 

The proper response is simply to submit to God and seek to obey what His Word clearly reveals, namely, that God’s sovereign purpose according to His unconditional choice will stand and that,  at the same time, I am responsible to submit and obey.  

Is that  so difficult to understand?

When we submit and commit ourselves to God’s purpose,  He surely blesses us. We go forward, and often  with difficulty, but we go forward.  Abraham  is the prime  example in our text. He submitted and committed himself to God’s purpose, and God blessed him abundantly. We read that he died “full of years” (25:8).  So too with Isaac. God blessed  Isaac  (25:11)
The doctrine of election ought  to be a doctrine of blessing, assurance and joy  to every  true believer.


[1] cf. also Malachi 1:2,3
[2] Donald Grey Barnhouse: Genesis Vol 2 , p.39
[4] Spurgeon’s Autobiography, 51.

Monday, March 25, 2019

John 3:16-21 THE AMAZING LOVE OF GOD FOR A SINFUL WORLD


Last time we considered John 3:1-15, in which we find a dialogue between Jesus  and  a Pharisee  named Nicodemus. 
Nicodemus is one of those who has seen the signs that Jesus was doing (2:23). He has seen something in Jesus, but not enough to make him believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Word of God, the Creator of all things (John 3:1-3).  To Nicodemus,  Jesus  simply is ‘a teacher  come from God’  (3:2), and isn’t that the way many people have looked  and are looking at Jesus Christ? The gospel of John challenges us  to look further   than just an enlightened teacher  or a  miracle worker. In this conversation Jesus essentially challenges  Nicodemus to look further, but not  with human eyes. In order to see and enter the kingdom of God (3:3,5), to understand who Jesus is,  one needs  to be born again.  This will enable one to see and enter the kingdom of God (3:3,5). Jesus invites Nicodemus to  look  to Him  and believe in Him, who in due course  was  going to lifted on a cross (3:12-15).

We have every reason to believe that in due time Nicodemus was born again. We have two more encouraging references to Nicodemus in the gospel of John.  In John 7:50-51, we find Nicodemus defending   Jesus  against  a group of  Pharisees  who wanted to arrest  Him unlawfully. Later in John 19:39, after Jesus had been crucified, Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea in giving Jesus a traditional Jewish burial. Nicodemus “brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds” (John 19:39). All this suggests that this encounter which Jesus had with Nicodemus in this 3rd chapter was indeed a life changing encounter.

John 3:16-21

Our text follows from where we last finished. Jesus invites Nicodemus to believe in Him, the Son of Man[1], one of Jesus’ favourite self -designations. 
John 3:16 is the most famous and most quoted verse in the Bible.
There is some debate  as to whether  vv.16-21  is  the continuing conversation of Jesus, or whether this is  the commentary of  John.   It seems most  likely  that  vv. 16-21 are John’s  added  comments. The reason why we say this is that in 3:16, the phrase ‘God gave his only Son’ (a reference to the cross) is  stated in the past tense[2]. Whatever the case may be, these are  the words  inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is what the Holy Spirit  caused John to write  down.   And here  we  learn  about 
(i) the  amazing reason  as to why God  sent Jesus into this world  
(ii)  the amazing disbelief  of the world.  
We close  with  a summary of the gospel – what it means to believe in Jesus  and the consequences  thereof , and what happens if we do not believe.

1. God’s love for this sinful world

a. An extensive, inclusive  love:  John 3:16 is a radical statement from every point of view. From  a Jewish perspective  this would have been  radical. If John had written, “For God so loved the Jews, this would have been entirely acceptable.  The Jews prided themselves in being God’s chosen, specially loved people[3]. In the course of the Exodus from Egypt and through the desert, His special love for them is evident. Even when they were sinning, God remained faithful to them. The reference in 3:14 is a point in case.  God sent a plague of biting vipers among them. He made a way for them- a bronze serpent- to which they only needed to look and be healed.  But when John writes, “God so loved the world, this statement comes with a new force. God loves the whole world. The love of God   now also includes the gentiles. The thought that  Yahweh, the God of their covenant,  could love the whole world  would have  disturbed  the  average  Jew. 

b. A surprising  love: John’s usage of the word ‘world’  is  usually a negative one (see the ‘world’ mentioned 3 times in our text). He sees the world as being   sinful and hostile[4]. This is what we read in  1:9-11.  The   doctrine of the surprising  love of God for the world (Jew and gentile) comes against the background   that  the  whole world is actually hostile to  the God,   and yet  the Gospel of John teaches us  that  the Gospel (the Good News)  is for the whole world.  This raises the age old question, “If God loves the world, then why does He not save everyone?”   In order to answer this, we need to understand the various ways in which God loves this world. 
Baptist theologian Don Carson wrote a book on this subject entitled,”The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” [5]. Here he explains  that the Bible speaks of the love of God in at least five ways:

i.     The  unique  love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father (Jn. 3:35; 5:20; 14:31).
ii.      God’s providential love for all that He has made. He cares and provides for all His creation.
iii.      God’s free offer of salvation for all  in this fallen world (Jn. 3:16; Ezek. 33:11).
iv.      God’s particular love toward His elect (Deut. 7:7-8; 10:14-15; Mal. 1:2-3; Eph. 1:4-5; 5:25).
v.      There is God’s conditional love toward His own people, based on their obedience (Jn. 14:21; 15:10; Jude 21; Ex. 20:6; Ps. 103:9-11, 13, 17-18).

So, when we read the Bible with respect to the doctrine of the love of God we need to determine what the text actually says. When we think of the love of God  in John 3:16  we need  to  think in terms of  point 3 and point 4.  Christ is offered to the whole world, and in that sense that Christ’s death was sufficient for all. God invites, commands and desires all men to come to Him, and yet it is clear that no one will come out of their own free will. The parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:12-24 illustrates this point. Every man makes excuses, because every man’s will is bent  on evil  (wait for 3:19 which refers back to 1:9-11). 
And so the love of God goes further, and He  freely  chooses  from among  those who  resist Him and reject Him. And so we may say, according to point 4, that Jesus died effectively for the elect alone. The  doctrine of God’s particular love for the sheep  will be expounded in John 10.  So, in summary John  teaches that  Christ’s death  is  sufficient for this world and many worlds over, but efficient only to the elect.  

c. A gracious, generous love (3:17).  We are told that Jesus, in His first coming, came to seek and to save the lost (Lk. 19:10). His primary work right now is not to condemn (judge) the world. This will happen at his second coming and this is what Jesus refers to in John 9:39, Jesus says, “For judgment I came into this world ….”

d. A reassuring love (3:18a) Whoever believes  in him is not condemned cf. Rom 8:1 “ There is  therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. If you have embraced the Lord Jesus, if you love Him and  if your hope is in Him then stand assured in the love of God.  

2. God’s wrath on those who  will not believe.

John not only exposes us to the wonderful love of God. He also  tells  us of the awful consequences  of rejecting  the  gospel offer.  

a.      Those who reject the free gospel offer  will “perish” (3:16)  This  is an everlasting state  –Perishing does not mean that they will be annihilated or cease to exist. In Matthew 25:46, Jesus says that some “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” If eternal life lasts forever, then so does eternal punishment. Jesus referred to it as the place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). If you ask whether the fire is literal or figurative, my reply is that it doesn’t matter—you don’t want to find out personally! Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus makes it clear that hell is a place of awful torment (Lk 16:23-24).

b.      Not believing the  free gospel offer means ‘continuing in the state we are already in 3:18b-20. No-one is neutral before  God.  By nature we are  condemned already’. By nature  we all love darkness rather than the light. Our evil nature is drawn to darkness. We instinctively hate the light. We will not come to the light lest the darkness of our hearts be exposed.

THE GOSPEL – WHAT THIS TEXT  TEACHES US

In practical terms, this means that we can tell unbelievers that God loves them so much that He sent His only Son to die for their sins, if only they will repent and believe in Christ- with eternal consequences  (eternal life).  At the same time we should warn them that if they do not believe in Christ, they are under God’s righteous judgment and wrath (Jn. 3:18, 36), with eternal consequences (they will perish).   And, since we know that none are willing to repent and believe in Christ,  unless God grants it (John 6:44, 65; Acts 11:18), we should be praying as we proclaim the gospel, that God would have  mercy  in opening  blind eyes, deaf ears, converting hearts of stone.

We must offer the gospel freely to everyone, but at the same time that we must tell everyone also the bad news. The Good news becomes more meaningful and powerful as  we hold before our listeners the  facts of the  bad news. 
Both, verses 16 and  18 make it clear that the crucial issue on our part is to believe in Jesus. Those who believe have eternal life; those who do not believe are currently under God’s condemnation and ultimately will perish.

What does it mean to believe in Jesus?

Believing in “the name of the only Son of God” (3:18) means

·       believing in all that He is and all that He came to do.
·       believing in Jesus requires understanding who He is: Son of Man ( promised Messiah) and Son of God (God the Son). He came from heaven  as the Lamb of God, the One to whom all the sacrifices point. Through His death and resurrection He offers eternal life to all who will come.  Based on that knowledge (which we get from the Bible), believing in Jesus means to entrust your eternal destiny to all that He did in dying for your sins on the cross. It means that you must cease trusting in your own goodness or self-effort as the means to  get  to  heaven.

A helpful illustration of believing, of exercising  a  saving faith  in  Jesus  is  the story  of the famous French tightrope walker, Charles Blondin (born Jean Fran├žois Gravelet, 28 February 1824 – 22 February 1897)[6]. He  became famous for crossing  340 meters  of the  Niagara Gorge, 50 metres  high,  on a tightrope.  This he did on 30 June 1859, and a number of times thereafter, often with different theatrical variations: blindfolded, trundling a wheelbarrow, carrying a man (his manager, Harry Colcord) on his back, … The point  is this. If  Harry Colcord   did not believe and  trust Blondin, he would never have gotten onto his back and walked across  the Niagara  fall. Many saw and believed  what  Blondin could do, but   the fewest would dare to get on his back.  In the same way, many say that they believe in Jesus, but they have not entirely trusted Him, believed in Him  for the journey  that  lies ahead. Remember that we all have to cross  that  final  river  some time. Dear unconverted friend, will  you not take another look at Jesus, and ask the Holy Spirit to have mercy on you? Ask Him in these words  –Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief  (Mark 9:24). 
God  will surely hear you!


[1] The term ‘ Son of Man’ occurs 88 times in the NT ; Son of Man is as a reference to the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14,
[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 228
[3] Deut. 7:6-8; 10:14-15; Mal. 1:2-3
[4] 1:9,10; 7:7; 14:17; 15:18-19; 16:8, 20, 33; 17:6, 9, 14, 25; 1 John 5:19
[5] Published by Crossway

Monday, March 18, 2019

John 3:1-21 "THE NEW BIRTH"


John writes his gospel with the aim of showing that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31). He does this in a number of ways:

1.  By making some very direct  theological statements concerning  Jesus; the most profound is that he makes Jesus equal with God  (John 1:1-18; cf. 5:18).

2. By telling   us about some of the signs that Jesus did. By this He proved that He had the ability to do things that only God could do. Nobody spontaneously makes wine out of water (2:1-11); nobody feeds 5000 people with only 5 loaves and two fishes (6:1-15). Nobody suspends the laws of nature by walking on water (6:16-21). Nobody raises people that have been dead for 4 days,  to life  (11:1-44)

3. By recording some of the profound conversations that Jesus had with various people (i.e. with Nicodemus here, and with the Samaritan woman at the well in Chapter 4). In these conversations Jesus reveals what He calls ‘heavenly things’ (3:12). He reveals the way into   the kingdom of God (3:3, 5), a kingdom infinitely bigger than geographical Israel. In these conversations He invites people to believe in Him (3:16, 18) that they may enter into eternal life.  During the course of these conversations it becomes very clear how ignorant Jews (Nicodemus) and gentiles (The Samaritan woman) were about these things. Many in our world are just like that. People’s understanding of God and of Christ and of the work of the Holy Spirit is too small. Our understanding of the serious effects of the fall is stunted and the nature of our sin is underrated. Most people believe that they have the capacity to work out their salvation through good works. Most people believe that they are going to heaven.

Our text focuses on the conversation of a Pharisee named Nicodemus. 
He comes to Jesus by night, perhaps for fear of being seen. The preceding context is important here. In John 2:23 we read that Jesus performed more of His miraculous signs in Jerusalem during the Passover feast. They are not recorded - see the comment in Jn. 20:30. The result is important to note: "many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.”  

Nicodemus was one of these  many who saw  these miraculous signs being done. He says to Jesus, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." And we, in our own minds may be thinking, "this man is a convert. He is one Pharisee who has come  to  believe in Jesus, because he saw the signs.” But, not so!  John 2:24-25  says,  [1]But Jesus on his part  did  not entrust himself to them, for He  knew all people  and needed  no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew  what was in a man."

Now what did Jesus know about these so-called believers, like Nicodemus that caused Him to not entrust Himself to them?  The answer is given in our text. Jesus knew that Nicodemus, the religious man and leader that he was, was not born again. Jesus knew what was in Nicodemus. The problem with religious men like Nicodemus is that he is not born again.  He does not really know God. He does not know what this kingdom of God is all about.  
And, so without much further ado, Jesus tells him, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again  he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (3:3
Now Nicodemus is really confused. Jesus is speaking here of the necessity of a birth. The only birth he knows of is the birth which a woman gives to a baby. So what is this ‘born again’?   Bewildered he asks a sort of logical question, “How can a man be born (again) when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (3:4).  So Jesus repeats  himself,  “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God”.  He is repeating the same thing, but He adds a phrase,   ‘born of water and the Spirit.  

The subject is still the regenerating   work of the Holy Spirit, but what is the meaning of the water? There are a number of views here. We will not elaborate on them all. Both,  water and the Spirit often refer symbolically in the OT to spiritual renewal and cleansing[2]. That’s what John came to do (see John 1). He called people to spiritual renewal and cleansing through baptism in water. The Spirit baptism he left to the Messiah (1:33), but both pointed to the same thing- a renewal, a cleansing, a washing from the horrible effects of sin.  
And now we must also  refer to Ezekiel’s prophecy, which is an allusion to the new covenant. Here God says through  Ezekiel,  24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezek. 36:24–27)

With the context of John 1 (John’s baptism) in mind, and Ezekiel’s prophecy pointing to the new covenant (the Spirit baptism associated with water), we can be fairly sure that this is what Jesus had in mind. Without the spiritual washing of the soul (symbolised in water baptism), accomplished by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, no one can enter God’s kingdom.  And so Jesus explains this further to Nicodemus: “Nicodemus, in order to enter the kingdom of God you must not only be born once. You must be born twice.  Your first birth is flesh - and it gives you a human nature. The second birth – gives you a spiritual nature.” In fact, it replaces that which was lost in the fall   through sin (Genesis 3).   So, "do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again “(3:7). In order to see the kingdom of God (3:3), and to enter the kingdom of God (3:5), you must be born again.

The mystery of the new birth is now explained.  Nicodemus, the wind (the Spirit) blows where it wishes and you hear its sound, but you do not know  where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. It is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, in which you have no part – just like you have no part in your first birth(3:8). 
You do not initiate your new birth any more than you give birth to your own body. You do not initiate your spiritual birth any more than Lazarus initiated his resurrection. The resurrection of Lazarus to new life was owing to one thing: the word of Jesus Christ—“ Lazarus, come out!” [John 11: 43]. The word that makes people come alive, is the Word of Jesus, as it is applied by  the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit is upon the message there is an explosion of life. The Word and the Spirit give new life to dead hearts. When the gospel is preached and the Holy Spirit says, “Let there be life”, the eyes of the heart are opened, and a person is born again! May it be so today!

Nicodemus is now utterly confused, “How can these things be?”(3:9).Jesus says to him, “Nicodemus, you are  a  spiritual teacher in Israel , and  yet you do not understand these things?” (3:10).   

What we learn here in John 3:3-10 is Jesus’ view of “what is in man”. The people that were marveling at His signs, and even this  religious teacher  of the Pharisees, Nicodemus, have no true perspective of  those  Scriptures which they claim to search. They have no  true idea  who God is  and what the kingdom of God  is. They have no understanding of the person and the nature of the long prophesied Messiah, who is right here before their very eyes. If the truth be told … they are dead.

Jesus however does not leave Nicodemus without an answer, “You must be born again!”  
What is the nature of a man who is not born again?   
He is mere flesh. Flesh in John 3:6 refers to human nature out of touch with God. It results in all sorts of problems, described in  Galatians 5:19-21: “The works of the flesh) are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy,  drunkenness, orgies  and things like  these. I warn you, as I warned you before , that those who do such  things will not inherit the kingdom of God."  
Flesh gives birth to flesh.”  
Who is mere flesh?  
All people, since all are born in this way. All people, everywhere, by nature, are cut off from God.  "We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23).  Apart from being born again by the Holy Spirit, all of humanity  is, from God’s perspective,   totally depraved. There is no sufficient moral good in any  of us  to make us  acceptable before this holy God[3]. The flesh may have the capacity to compose beautiful music, and  send spaceships to Mars, design and build and invent wonderful things  -  but all  these achievements are of no moral value in God’s sight. Wherever man does not humbly rely on God for power, the product of his brain is an idol (Rom. 14:23- Whatever does not proceed from faith – even my preaching to you - is sin).  

Since religion is such a  common  substitute for  the real thing , i.e  the new birth, each of us ought to examine ourselves to see if we are truly born of God (2 Cor. 13:5). I say  this  with trembling… but many, many people in our churches are utterly minimalistic  when it comes to portraying the born again life, in terms of  loving God, loving  one another… I fear for  religious people in our churches. 

These words of Jesus   must have rocked Nicodemus’ heart and soul. Jesus’  words must have pierced his hearts  and  they must have  humbled this   ruler of the Jews “… Nicodemus, you are a spiritual teacher in Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly I say to you (3rd time in this conversation), we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen .” Jesus is  including John the Baptist  or the disciples in the ‘we’ (cf. John 1:14,15) , but you  (Plural – meaning the Jewish  people whom Nicodemus represented)   if I have told you earthly things  and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”

Jesus had employed earthly metaphors such as birth (for the new birth) and the wind (for the Holy Spirit), and  yet Nicodemus, and those whom he represented  refused to believe (3:12). How will they possibly understand and accept a still more direct language, like “I AM YOUR CREATOR- THEREFORE COME TO ME  AND I WILL HEAL YOU FROM YOUR BLINDNESS, DEAFNESS AND HARDNESS OF HEART?”  

Jesus knew what He is talking about, for His own origins were from heaven. He  descended  from heaven. He  is, right now, the ascended Christ (3:13). 

Which brings  me to my final words. Jesus is preparing Nicodemus for  a work of grace : "In fact, Nicodemus, I am telling you now that  I am  here  to do a great work for all who will believe." 

The OT under Moses has left a great illustration  for us in Numbers 21:9 ff. When Moses used the image of an upraised  snake in the desert, to be looked  at, and so   to save from death those that were bitten by snakes,  Jesus  saw Himself in this picture as the One lifted  up on a cross to save all those  who would look to Him  and  believe in Him. 
Jesus, lifted up on the cross for us to behold  is  a far greater saving achievement  than Moses.People healed from their snakebites  will die again. People  who look to Jesus  for the healing of sin's lethal  effects  will live for eternity. 

All this leads us to that great statement  in John 3:16, perhaps the most quoted verse in  the Bible. I will have to leave this for next time.  
Dear friends, Christ has been clearly portrayed before you. Who is He to you?And  those  of you,  who  are still   half committed and religious, how will you escape  the coming wrath if you continue to ignore  this Christ? 
What will you do on the day of His coming?
This is an invitation to believe in Jesus – His person and work! Embrace Him, love Him with all your heart soul mind and strength.


[1] Note:  this is very similar  to  the story  of the rich young ruler in Mark 10
[2] cf. Num. 19:17–19; Isa. 4:4; 32:15; 44:3; 55:1; Joel 2:28–29; Zech. 13:1
[3] See Isaiah 6:1-7- Isaiah overcome with the holiness of God